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25 Apr 2016

Lewes prison: High levels of violence and not enough purposeful activity

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Lewes prison, published today (Tuesday 26 April).

Inspectors visited the prison in December and January and found that there were high levels of violence and use of force. In the six months before the inspection there had been 25 assaults on staff and 111 assaults on prisoners.

Lewes holds a wide range of prisoners, including a significant number of young adults and men aged over 60. The oldest prisoner at the time of the inspection was in his nineties. This mix of prisoners presents a number of challenges, which will make it harder for the prison to improve.

Some of Lewes’s most significant problems were highlighted when inspectors went to the first night centre, where new prisoners are meant to spend their first night after arriving at the prison.

In the six months before the inspection there had been 25 assaults on staff and 111 assaults on prisoners.

People who had committed sex offences were held in the first night centre because there was nowhere else to put them, but this meant that other new arrivals were placed wherever a space could be found. Some were even placed in the segregation unit.

Most staff on other units were unaware of who the new arrivals were and therefore could not provide appropriate first-night support and monitoring. Inspectors visiting at night found that some staff did not have knives to cut ligatures.

More than a quarter of prisoners who responded to an inspectors’ survey reported feeling depressed or suicidal on arrival, and a third said that they had mental health problems.

Prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and foreign nationals were much more negative than others about the way staff treated them.

About half of the 640 men in Lewes prison were locked up during the working day. On some units men were routinely kept in their cells for 23 hours a day.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is a prison that is struggling even to fulfil its primary purpose – to keep prisoners, staff and the public safe. Lewes reflects the shambles and the shame of the prison estate and the systemic challenges it faces.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. A copy of the Lewes inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from Tuesday 26 April.
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